Thursday, 8 December 2011


Last night I enjoyed watching the "Party Games" episode of "Yes Minister" (the Christmas Special of 1984 - in which the climax is the phonecall that confirms that he is to be the new Prime Minister.)Well worth buying the complete set of 'Yes Minister' and 'Yes, Prime Minister' (a much better guide to how British politics and government works than many textbooks on the subject!)

In this episode in order to gain popularity he misrepresents a European Directive - and promises to stand against it. It's a tool that 'Yes Minister' was satirising 27 years ago - and is still a staple part of the British political scene. (Just look at the media & parliament in the last few days as we approach the European Summit.)

It is an effective technique (and I'm sorry to say even some pro-Europe politicians have used it for short term gain) - but has unfortunate consequences. Euroscepticism has flourished - and misunderstandings about the EU (the classic is the confusion between the EU Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights - which as a law lecturer I have to deal with frequently.)

I recently made a complaint to the BBC about a short item on the Steve Wright Show in which Dr Hilary Jones had attacked the an "EU directive" (and Steve Wright had joined in)

My complaint read:

Complaint Summary: Dr Hilary Jones' comments on EU (1 hr 39 mins)

Full Complaint: Yet another euromyth is being repeated by an "expert" on the BBC. In responding to a tabloid story about water Dr Jones stated "The EU directive is complete nonsense, it is absolute madness" The listening public might assume that this was a considered opinion based on reading the report. This would not appear to be the case. It is no wonder that people have a poor view of the EU. My concern is that inaccurate descriptions and glib uninformed remarks have political consequences. Our national dialogue about the EU ang government in general is being corrupted by this sort of nonsense which you have broadcast. The Regulation in question can be accessed at http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2011:299:0001:0003:EN:PDF Further background can be found at http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/the-lay-scientist/2011/nov/18/1?newsfeed=true

I received this response yesterday

Dear Mr Morgan

Reference CAS-1118986-L5VWYF

I have listened to the Steve Wright Show and the comments you have raised.

The item was slightly tongue-in-cheek but was based on an EU report designed to prevent commercial bottlers from profiting from claims. The BBC did not report the story although the Daily Telegraph did:

The Telegraph has its own standpoint on Europe of course, but the angle they took is interesting. Clearly story headline is designed as an attention grabber.

In listening back I think the light-hearted tone was appropriate (this is an entertainment programme) and was not misleading as they did mention the commercial angle which the report and ruling were designed to address. However, taken at face value it does seem to be a report that would naturally attract ridicule. Although there is no anti-EU bias that I am aware of, I will pass your comments to the producer so that he is reminded that we do need to maintain balance, especially at the moment.
Lord Reith's aim was that the BBC should to "educate, inform and entertain" - do they have the balance right today? In "Yes Minister" they exposed the deliberate misrepresentation of European affairs as a political strategy, today are they pandering to it?